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Bright Side Of Desire

John Abraham is forever looking at the bright side of human nature.

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He has an MBA and started his career as a media planner in an agency, until the media director looked at his chiseled looks and suggested he move to the other side of the business and model instead of planning ads. The prestigious Gladrags Manhunt contest was around the corner; John Abraham filled a crumpled form lying nearby and entered on a lark. Not only did he win, he went on to stand second in the worldwide international finals. A successful modeling stint followed abroad before Abraham returned home to make his mark in India, and once he starred in a bunch of music videos, offers to star in films poured in. John signed Aitbaar with Amitabh Bachchan and the hot and happening Bipasha Basu. That movie is still to see the light of day, but John finally made his debut in the much hyped, blockbuster Jism:The Dark Side of Desire with Bipasha as his co-star.

Jism was being touted as Bipasha's movie, a woman oriented film where the heroine is a ruthless manipulative woman who stops at nothing to get what she wants. It was John Abraham, however, who turned out to be the surprise package of the movie, a fact that even Bipasha who is his lady both in reel and real life today, acknowledges.

Today he is hot property, and in real life, John Abraham is perhaps even better looking, but what comes across is his humility and warmth, and the fact that he is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. In an exclusive interview with Little India, he talks of his journey so far and what he values most in life.

Tell me about your growing years.

Well my dad is an architect and a Malyalee Christian. My mom is Iranian and played basketball for the country and that is how they met. There was a lot of drama when they decided to marry. In fact, they eloped and my aunt threw a stone at my dad when they were running away. That was a Hindi film right there in the making, but ofcourse after I was born everyone reconciled. My father is probably the most honest person I know. We lived modestly and I learnt not to waste. I am still the same person, very casual, and unmaterialistic. In fact, I just bought my very first car, a land cruiser and it is such a big deal!

You won the Gladrags Manhunt contest, modeled abroad and then came back.

Yes, I did sign up with an agency abroad and a lot of time I would be mistaken for Spanish or Italian and did fairly well, but I came back home to let people know what John Abraham was all about and with God's grace I did well here too. Modeling abroad is very professional. The modeling agencies really take care of everything. You are their baby and if you have signed up to shoot only until say 6 p.m., and the clients want you to go over even by 5 minutes, they have to take permission from your agent. In India, you are pretty much left to your own devices, running around with your portfolio, fending for you self and struggling on your own. Luckily for me, since I had won the Gladrags contest, I started getting work without having to run around, but professionally I think India still has to do a lot of catching up to do.

You were a media planner, and handled the media campaigns of other models, so what did you learn from the other side of the fence?

Good question. I learn not to pick any and every campaign or product that came along because once you end up over-exposing yourself, as I saw some people do, you lose appeal very quickly. The same applies to films. I could have signed 20 films post Jism, but I have not. You may be the handsomest, most talented guy in the world, but if you star in 10 movies in a year, the audience will get sick and tired of you. I am quite happy with earning enough to eat three square meals a day, choose good scripts and do fewer films than sign anything and everything just to rake in the moolah.

Let us come to Jism. It was touted as Bipasha's film, but you turned out to be the surprise package in the film with your sensitive performance and if it was not for you, the various nuances and subtleties of both the characters could not have been brought out so beautifully.

Well, I think low-key approach worked in my favor. I hardly fit the filmi profile. I am not a trained actor, I am not a Khan or a Kapoor and on top of that, I am a model, and models are considered non-actors who are not supposed to know how to emote! Therefore, the only thing known about me was that I was a model who was doing a film called Jism. In reality, Mahesh Bhatt said to me that I am very lucky to be making my debut in a role that actors, if they are fortunate get to do in their 15th or 20th film.

There was a scene where you realize that the woman you love so passionately has used you all along and you break down. I read somewhere that you drew upon a broken relationship and its painful aftermath, during your MBA days.

That is correct. I drew upon the memories of those moments when my relationship was going through this rough patch. When the story was initially related to me, it was a woman's story and how she falls in love with this lawyer, but as it developed, I am glad the camera was put on my shoulder and it became a story about a man who falls hopelessly in love with this woman and the consequences of that obsessive love.

There is a scene where he realizes how he has been used and breaks down. I had gone through that pain and I can relate to someone who is emotionally disturbed, because I know how that feels. I remember doing that scene and reliving that pain and I could not stop crying even after the scene was over. Mahesh Bhatt said the last time he saw such emotional reaction and someone getting in to the skin of things was from Shabana Azmi.

It was an unconventional debut. In fact, after the first trial, every one said to me you are the first hero who is coming on the scene, out of a car crying and half dead. Is this how you want to start your career, do you have a better option? I was very sure of the film and said that is just the way I want to do it.

I really thank the audience for their overwhelmingly positive response and it has really brought home the fact that the audience is non-judgmental, hard work pays off and the time for realistic cinema and fresh themes is right now!

I also got a lot of industry support. I had heard a lot of stories about people here being unscrupulous, and I did not see that, but then I guess if you are good people want you, in any sphere of life, and if you are not, you are out.

Aitbaar was the first film you signed and it is still not finished.

Yes, it ran into production problems, but it is a movie to watch out for in terms of my performance. It has Amitabh Bachchan in it playing Bipasha's possessive father and Iam her lover. Mr. Bachchan is a legend, but so professional and such a thorough gentleman. It was a pleasure working and learning from just watching him emote. Mr. Bachchan and the directors have taught me what it means to be natural and not be selfish. Many actors just want to hog the limelight and be in front of the camera all the time.

I believe you are an expert in martial arts.

It is something I do not talk about, but yes I have trained with the police and though Aitbaar has scenes with me performing martial arts, I was well versed in it even before I signed the movie. It is something that has taught me discipline, tolerance and to smile when people around me are being negative. I have never hurt anyone - on the contrary, martial arts has given me an inner serenity, and an appreciation of the strength and beauty of the human form.

You too are not doing too many multistarrers, which have become the norm in Bollywood?

Yes, even though I am only a couple of films old and it is indeed difficult to get scripts that have only one hero. I know Iam not Shahrukh Khan and maybe it is unrealistic of me to ask for films that revolve only around me at this early stage of my career, but I am confident and have no qualms in saying that I am capable of shouldering the burden and carrying it off with ease if given the opportunity. Jism and Saaya were both solo hero films, though Aitbaar is with Mr. Bachchan and I am doing Ahmed Khan's multi-starrer with Sunny Deol, Sunil Shetty, Sohail Khan and Vikram Bhatt's film with Arjun Rampal and Rahul Khanna. I am also excited about Pooja Bhatt's first directorial venture Paap. It will be an outstanding movie.

If there was a movie, you would give an arm and a leg for which one would it be?

There is indeed one and I am going to do it one day even if I have to produce it myself. It is the Sean Penn starrer, I am Sam. I want to play Sean Penn's role of the mentally challenged father raising his daughter.

In the past year with all the stupendous success, what is it about yourself that has surprised you?

That I have come this far. I still tell people that luck and timing are definitely important but nothing succeeds like hard work, and nothing is more important than being honest, sincere and a clean person. I came to the industry with no expectations, I do my work without shortchanging or undercutting any body, the credit if I succeed or the blame if I fail, is all mine, but wherever I end up I want to be remembered as a decent human being above anything else.  

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Arts & Entertainment | Bollywood | Magazine | September 2003

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